Figuring out how to pay for college can be both difficult and confusing. This is especially true for LGBTQ+ students because some face the barrier of not receiving parental support or guidance.

The College Board estimates that the average total price of undergraduate tuition, fees, and room and board was around $50,770 for a four-year private college and $22,180 for a public college. Many students use financial aid and help from parents to cover the costs, but this can be difficult for some LGBTQ+ students to do.

According to a 2019 survey from Student Loan Hero, 60% of LGBTQ+ individuals reported a lack of family support. In addition to not feeling accepted, 28% of respondents have been forced to leave their homes because of their sexuality. Fortunately, some organizations provide resources and scholarship opportunities specifically for LGBTQ+ students.

This article details LGBTQ+ individuals' critical issues in paying for college—during school and afterward—and suggests approaches that can help.

Key Takeaways

  • LGBTQ+ students may lack financial support from their families and end up with excessive student loan debt after college. 
  • Wage gaps and hiring discrimination create additional challenges for LGBTQ+ graduates who have student loan debt.
  • There are mentorship and scholarship programs available to help LGBTQ+ students pay for college.
  • Parents must provide financial information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to help find grants, federal loans, and work-study programs.
  • All students may use loan restructuring or loan forgiveness programs to help them handle school-related debt.

Lack of Guidance and Financial Support  

A lack of support can be particularly harmful to college students, who often rely on family to help pay tuition. Sallie Mae’s How America Pays for College report found that, on average, parental income and savings covered 45% of a student’s college expenses. LGBTQ+ students without supportive parents are left to cover this portion of costs on their own.

Getting financial aid is much more difficult without the advice and cooperation of parents. For example, to receive aid, most students are required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is what you need to apply for scholarships, grants, federal student loans, and work-study programs.

Unless you are considered an independent student, you must report information about your parents’ income and assets on the FAFSA, which is used to determine their (and thus, your) financial aid eligibility. The FAFSA also requires a parent’s signature, so if a parent refuses to sign, you may not be eligible for aid that you might receive with their information.

This is especially crucial when it comes to scholarships and grants. Unlike student loans, which have to be paid back with interest, scholarships and grants are considered gift aid. Gift aid is basically free money for college from the government, a college, or a private organization. One-quarter of a student’s college costs are paid for with scholarships and grants. Scholarships are typically awarded to students based on merit; grants are given to students who demonstrate financial need.

Not having family support or access to financial aid can create major setbacks for LGBTQ+ students. Those who lack FAFSA documentation cannot apply for federal student loans, which generally offer the most favorable terms for borrowers. As a result, many use high-interest private student loans or credit cards to cover college costs. Nearly 30% of LGBTQ+ individuals reported having unmanageable student loan debt, according to Student Loan Hero.

Workplace Discrimination

Encountering workplace discrimination because of your sexual orientation or gender identity can make it more burdensome to find employment that can help you pay down debt. According to a national public opinion study from the Center for American Progress, more than one-third of LGBTQ+ respondents said they experienced discrimination in the past year. Thirty-six percent of these respondents experienced discrimination in the workplace.

In 27 states, LGBTQ+ individuals have no legal protection from discrimination. This means that as an LGBTQ+ person, you can be denied employment, housing, and public accommodations based on your gender identity and sexual orientation.

Some companies have taken proactive steps to institute inclusive workplace policies and practices that make them more welcoming environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer-identifying people. The Human Rights Campaign publishes an annual Corporate Equality Index highlighting such corporations. Investors consult it for companies to add to their portfolios; it's also a good list to check out when looking for a job.

How LGBTQ+ Students Can Get Help Paying for College

If you're paying for college on your own, it won't be easy, but there are ways to help reduce the costs. If you don't qualify for any grants to help pay for college, there are some scholarships and student loans that you can apply for on your own.

Scholarships for LGBTQ+ students

There are a number of scholarship awards available specifically to LGBTQ+ students. You can search free databases on sites such as Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and the Human Rights Campaign website to see a detailed list.

Some organizations offer other types of support to LGBTQ+ students, in addition to scholarships. For example, Point Foundation provides scholarships, mentorships, leadership development, and community service training opportunities to LGBTQ+ students of merit. According to its website, the organization is the largest of its kind.

Student loans

LGBTQ+ students should still complete the FAFSA, even if their parents refuse to help or provide any information. If you are a dependent student, you can select the option “I am unable to provide information about my parent(s),” and that you would like to be considered for an unsubsidized federal student loan—this is the only type of federal student aid you can receive in this situation. This type of loan has a lower interest rate and more flexible repayment and forgiveness options than a private student loan.

If you aren’t able to borrow enough in federal student loans, you may want to explore private student loan options. However, these loans, typically offered through banks, credit unions, or other private lenders, usually require a good credit history or a cosigner. Additionally, these loans also often have much higher interest rates, which means you could end up paying more back in interest when repaying your loan.

Paying Down Student Loan Debt

The best way to start paying off debt is to find a job—maybe during, but definitely after, college. Then, as you start to pay off your loan (for most federal student loans, you have to start about six months after you leave school), look for ways to reduce your loan burden.

In 27 states, LGBTQ+ individuals have no legal protection from discrimination. This means that as an LGBTQ+ person, you can be denied employment, housing, and public accommodations based on your gender identity and sexual orientation.

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Despite these barriers, the world is changing in a positive way. In the first 100 days of his administration, President Biden signed a number of orders protecting LGBTQ+ rights. And the business world is also beginning to step forward.

Another thing to look for: The growing number of companies that include student debt repayment as an employee benefit. You may also find an employer that helps pay tuition for college courses for their employees. It's worth looking for these opportunities. When you're researching companies to apply for jobs, see whether any of them offer student debt relief or education benefits.

Investigate loan restructuring and loan forgiveness

If you have student loan debt, you can look into ways to reduce the amount you owe. Federal student loans allow borrowers to change their repayment plan at any time for free. For example, you may be able to reduce your monthly payment obligation based on your annual income with an income-driven repayment plan. Under these plans, your outstanding debt is typically forgiven after 20 or 25 years.

If you've taken out a federal student loan, also look over the various federal student loan forgiveness programs. It's worth knowing if you might qualify for one—or could structure your career to make that possible.

Private student loans are not eligible for government forgiveness programs, but LGBTQ+ borrowers may be able to get a lower interest rate or better repayment terms by refinancing their loans.

The Bottom Line

Paying for college can be tough for most people, and it can be even tougher for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Recognizing these barriers can help LGBTQ+ students combat the difficulties they might encounter and proactively strategize to handle them.

Plan ahead as much as possible. If you plan to attend college but are not on good terms with your parents, start saving as soon as possible. Consider funding a 529 college savings plan with money earned from summer or part-time jobs. Anything you can save now will reduce the amount you will have to borrow later.

If you're already in college and need help paying for it, use the resources you can access, such as financial aid and scholarships. Being prepared and knowing as much as possible will help make the college experience more enjoyable. When you graduate—and you will graduate, even if it takes more than four years—look for workplaces that embrace diverse people and ideas. And maybe even find an employer that offers benefits designed to help you pay down your student loans sooner.